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Keller @ Large: Patrick Kennedy's Crusade

BOSTON (CBS) - The voice rises with anger as the speaker warms to his topic - the alleged failure of medical providers and insurers to comply with a federal mandate to treat and prevent mental illness: "If this were cancer, if this were HIV, how long do you think people would get away with denying care?"

No doubt about it, former Rhode Island Congressman Patrick Kennedy is angry at those he claims aren't doing what they should to prevent and treat the mental illnesses fueling our addiction problems. And while he applauds recent efforts at the federal and state level to address the opioid addiction problem, he says "what's not in there is the essence of what we need, which is people need to be treated for these illnesses in all aspects of health care just like they would be treated for any other illness."

But Patrick's not the only angry Kennedy these days.

Both his mother Joan and his brother Ted Jr. have publicly chastised him for writing candidly in his new book - "A Common Struggle: A Personal Journey Through the Past and Future of Mental Illness and Addiction," co-authored with Stephen Fried - about not just his lifelong battle with addiction but also that of his famous father, the late Senator Ted Kennedy.

How is he getting along with his family since?

"The most important people in my life are my wife and my three, soon to be four, children. And my family is great," says Patrick. "Obviously, I have, like everyone else, larger family relationship issues, and those relationships are going to be alright, because they always are alright, but right now they're still frayed, and I understand why they're frayed. They're frayed because people don't want to talk about these issues."

That, says Patrick, was a major reason why he wrote his memoir - to promote conversation about mental illness, relieve the social stigma that still haunts those who suffer from it and their loved ones, and in doing so, advance his crusade for mental health awareness and treatment.

His effort will be honored Friday with a major award from McLean Hospital in Belmont reserved for people who have advanced public understanding of psychiatric illness and mental health.

"There's hurt on both sides of this," he said. "Sure, there's hurt in me talking. But there's also hurt in me being silent."


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